Visiting the school

Almost exactly three years since the earthquake and I have had the privilege to return.
On April 20th 2018 I was able to visit the school. Here’s what happened…

About four hours into the drive on the morning of the visit, we turned a corner into a new valley and stopped. They pointed across to the other side and said “That’s where the school is”, second zig-zig up apparently. It looked close, but there was a huge valley to cross first.

And it’s a beautiful valley. So different to all the others we’d been through, very lush and green, with banana palm fronds growing naturally. 🍌🌴

And the river at the bottom is a beautiful blue; I found myself hoping that the children that go to the school sometimes get to go down to the river to play.

The road, inevitably, did get much worse and it took us two more hours to get across the valley!

I’m not sure how long they’d been waiting to welcome us, it was one of those “they’ll arrive when they arrive” kind of situations. But after gobbling some food at a neighbours house we finally made it.

They let me lead the way up to the entrance which had been decorated especially and the children were lined up carrying flowers, scarves and tikka (the red powder to put on your forehead) to adorn me as I walked through.Our group were ushered into the guest of honour seats with all our gifts. The ceremony began with a long list of introductions of absolutely everyone present, which included the local mayor. John, from The Gurkha Welfare Trust, and I were asked to light candles to declare it open and then I had the honour of pulling back the curtain to reveal the plaques for The Country That Shook classroom block and the second one too as well as an opening ceremony board.Some of the children performed, with a group singing while three of the younger girls danced 😍Then I was asked to stand up and speak 😳😂

I’m sure nobody had any idea what I said but I just emphasised how happy I was to be there and to be able to support the rebuild of the school. I showed the books, posters and T-shirts that I had bought as gifts, in his speech John, from the GWT, reiterated in Nepali about the book and how it had helped to create their building.

In return I was presented with a plaque to take home with me, called the ‘Token of Love’ ❤ so cuteOnce all the official business seemed to be over I requested a photo with the children in front of the school. It was so good to say namaste to some of them and give them books to hold after being sat in the ‘grown-up’ area, separate from them.
I’d brought letters and drawings from children in a school in Hampshire so I took them to the english teacher, and the crowd that immediately formed was amazing. The children were so intrigued and wanted to see every page. (I’m hoping that the english teacher might send me some replies to give to the children back home)

Elsewhere children and parents were looking at the books, and it was clear that some of them had never held a book before, they weren’t sure what to do with it but they were so curious. I pointed out the bit of nepali writing in the illustrations and the flag so I think they understood it’s about their country.

After that there was just time for a quick look round the classrooms, and a huge round of goodbyes and we were off again! Literally a whirlwind visit! The classrooms are very bare and simple, they have new desks and chairs which will be in there soon, and maybe the A2 prints of The Country That Shook that i gave them might end up on the walls too… who knows!

SUCH a beautiful experience
The school is so grateful for what The Country That Shook has achieved, the English teacher went out of his way to keep telling me 🙂 and of course, again, HUGE thanks to The Gurkha Welfare Trust for connecting me with the school and for making the trip possible 

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How do you connect with people who are in genuine need?

20141127-GWT-8216-JOHNNY-FENN-1024x682(Photograph by Johnny Fenn http://johnnyfenn.co.uk)
This is a very valid question I was asked recently by someone considering their own project. I would say that this decision has been and still is the hardest part of the project.
When I started The Country That Shook I naively thought that this task would be incredibly straightforward because there are so many deserving and needy people in Nepal. Following this intention, I have been in talks directly with a few people in Nepal, who organise community based support and rebuilding projects, for many months. Unfortunately I have continually come up against the problem that they are unable to offer me proof of where the money will be spent. This is not surprising as it is not their culture to have contracts and documentation for everything like we do in the West, plus of course a country recovering from an earthquake is not a normal situation.
However, we have now raised over £7,000, and I have a responsibility to know where the money that so many people have kindly spent to support The Country That Shook is going. I don’t feel like I can hand money over without this knowledge or alternatively being in the country to oversee it, which is not a viable option for me.
Unfortunately this has lead to a couple of difficult situations where opportunities to support communities have not developed as I had hoped, and a lack of information and trust has meant that I had to back away. This has been distressing at times because I do truly believe that their intentions were good, it just felt like too much of a risk.
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Therefore, I am going to go down a completely different route and donate the money through a charity. This is something that I was completely against when I started out as I thought that too much of the money donated would be lost in admin fees and then even more would be siphoned off by the Nepali government.
However, after contacting endless charities my opinion has been changed; it is true that only around 85% of the donation is spent on the school rebuild (or alternative project), but that other 15% is what provides all that is needed to coordinate something like this, the connection with the local people, the knowledge of where help is really needed and the ability to be in constant contact with the build as it progresses in a very remote area. These are all things that I don’t have and would be unable to do from the UK with a full time job.
All of the charities I’ve been talking to have been recommended to me by various reputable people in Nepal and the UK. The conversations have been invaluable in my steep learning curve about how charities function and what the best fit for us will be.
I will be updating you shortly on how and where the money will be spent and who I am partnering with…12493617_10156453753870526_4635670540354304582_o

Donating to the project

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The Country That Shook has had so many kind messages and emails from people who are impressed with what we’re trying to do. However some of them say that they have no one to buy any of the gifts for. I can relate to that; I never like to buy things just for the sake of it.

So there is now a Donate To Nepal option, which allows you to show your support to the Nepali people. As always every single penny will go to Nepal, there are no overheads to pay.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

And what’s even better is that
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That’s a pretty good incentive.

One Month

UPDATE-01

The Country That Shook products have been available to purchase for a month now!

Sales have been steadily coming in with great responses both from online customers and sales made in person in the UK. The books have been received very well – we have had so many kind comments about both the illustration style and the story itself.

We have sold well over 150 books so far! Added to the Kickstarter rewards, that total rises to almost 250.

And then, combined with the sales from the screen-printed T-shirt and the A2 Print the total money raised so far is over

2200-01

I don’t have exact figures because there are a good few people around the country who are selling copies on my behalf everyday. Every penny is being counted and added on!

This is incredible for the first month of sales, but we still have 1000 books to be enjoyed and to raise money for people who still have very very little in Nepal, struggling with their daily lives.
Plus there is this small thing called Christmas on the horizon – do you know anyone who might appreciate it as a present?

If you have any new or different ideas about how to share the project, please do! It really is incredible how people have connected with it and support it… it’s just a case of spreading the word now!

Where will the money go?

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I
‘ve been asked this very valid question a few times recently and now that the shop is open and the products are selling I feel that it’s something I can focus on.

Currently I am not working directly with any specific charity in Nepal. What I learnt while I was there is that an inexplicable amount of charity money is siphoned off by the government, so I am wary to just hand over vast sums to anybody via the internet.

My plan is to return to Nepal myself next year and distribute the money raised by buying things that people are in need of, or financially supporting projects.

In particular I’d like to focus on the huge mental health trauma that the earthquake has created. This article from back in May really highlights the huge problem. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/15/nepal-earthquake-mental-health-disaster

I am in a position now, with the project making money, where I can start to contact people and ask questions the gauge situations. That in itself is amazing! We have connections with people we met in Nepal at the time who can help us to understand where money would be best spent.

I will keep everyone updated as to what I find over the coming weeks.
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